Etude VII - RAY

Welcome to MUSE ECHO where I write about the creative process, past and present, music I've written, what I was thinking and so on.

Today's blog is about RAY the 7th of 12 progressive etudes I composedpublished in the book "In Adoration of the Earth". You can hear RAY which is right on the LISTEN page of

Most but not all of the works in that book, "In Adoration of the Earth",  are pieces that I've composed for students in my music studio. RAY however, was originally a work I composed for double bass, as a sonic love letter to my now husband! It was originally titled "Hawk in Flight" because Eliot loves hawks. He loves their cry, how they fly, loves seeing them fly in the area we live. They're such beautiful creatures.

A weird question I ask people I love sometimes, is if they could experience life for one day as any creature, what creature would they choose? Eliot said a hawk. So, I composed this work for him. It sounds great on the double bassplayed arco in the duple meter sections and pizz. in the 6/8 sections.

Well, while compiling works for this first book of etudes, I decided to transcribe this work for the solo oboe. I had played it on the oboe and thought - wow - this would make a good etude for the oboe. Wanting a better balance of sky and sea creatures in the collection "In Adoration of the Earth"  I renamed it RAY as I could easily imagine a RAY swimming. The thought of a RAY also inspires grace and flow which is a challenge on oboe when playing arpeggious like I call for in this work.  Good practice.

Frankly, on it's own, I think "RAY" is a better title for a work on bass and "Hawk in Flight" is the better title for this work on oboe - but - I decided differently at the time in the setting of the collection.

The work in is e minor andvacillates between duple and triple meter - nothing difficult at all - but a nice introduction to mixed meter reading in the progressive etudes. The work ends on the dominant creating a feeling of fleeing, freedom with hope of return.

Half of the etudes in this book, "In Adoration of the Earth" I deliberately, go to lengths to not start and end the piece on the same note. Some of the animal portraits, I feel, need to be this way in order to not sound like a captured domesticated animal. In this way it honors it's freedom and expresses better it's life in the wild. To me, tonality and structures are better associated with civilization.  However, I do have some works start and end on tonic in order to create a feeling of place or home - like MOLE, for instance, or PORCUPINE. RAVEN is all about A minor, and is firmly rooted in it. But, EAGLE is obscure with tonality as is CROW. I thought it good to give RAVEN a clear tonality and CROW an obscure sense of tonality to help differentiate the two species anyway.

RAY has proven to be an appropriate etude for my Junior High and High School private oboe students. It's pitch range is from lowest D to double ledger line D#. It makes good sight reading for conservatory students or amateur adults who can read well. 

The first time I taught a master class in Paris, shortly after this book was published overseas, a girl thought of RAY as a ray of light. Her interpretation was quite beautiful. Full of nuance and elegant splendor.

As a composer, I love hearing others play what I write because it's the best way I can hear who the other person is. That isn't the case with other composers. But with my own music, I can hear right away what isn't me, but them. Actually, it's the best way I can get a sense of a person.

I think music can be like an article of clothing. Just as the same article of clothing looks different on everyone, a piece of music sounds different played by everyone. I love that.

As a composer, I've learned the importance of thinking like a taylor - meaning to compose what works carefully for a particular person or ensemble for best possible results.

Thank you for your interest.
Kathryn Potter